Monday, January 3, 2011

Monday's Writing Tip: Now, That's a Problem!

My kids are still on vacation (they go back tomorrow). So here's another recycled post from April that I hope you find helpful if you missed it the first time around!

"To avoid unnecessary use of the word "that" in writing, remove "that" from sentences to see if it changes the meaning." WMU Writing Tips

For many beginning writers, use of the word "that" is a problem. In addition to adding needless words to a manuscript, its constant repetition causes choppiness and interrupts the flow of writing.

Not long ago, I attended an insightful and informative workshop on editing presented by Ann Warner.  The first exercise she assigned for us was to look through the works in progress we'd brought and highlight the word "that" in our first two pages.

Ms. Warner was pleased to see that none of us raised our hands when asked if it appeared five or more times. "You're not beginners," she said. But at one time, we all were.

In Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, "that" and "which" are discussed as follows:

That is the defining, or restrictive pronoun, which the nondefining, or nonrestrictive.

The lawnmower that is broken is in the garage. (Tells which one)

The lawn mower, which is broken, is in the garage. (Adds a fact about the only mower in question)

The use of "which" for "that" is common in written and spoken language...Occasionally "which" seems preferable to "that"...But it would be a convenience to all if these two pronouns were used with precision. The careful writer, watchful for small conveniences, goes "which" hunting, removes the defining "whiches," and by so doing improves his work.

I just want to add to that, although I lack the eloquence of Mr. Strunk and Mr. White here, that a careful writer will trim those thats, too! Remember that trimming that unnecessary that from your writing is like trimming that unnecessary fat from your diet! And that's a good thing!

Any comments on "that?"  Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping  by!


Unknown said...

Thanks for posting (reposting ;))I cured my addiction to "which/that" during my first manuscript revisions.

Maria McKenzie said...

Those first manuscripts are usually a little overweight due to those calories from that/which:)!

Angie said...

"Which" hunting. LOL. That's good advice.

Golden Eagle said...

Thanks for the post! I actually do the opposite--I'll skip words like "that" and have to add them in later because it doesn't make sense the first time around. :P

Southpaw said...

Well I just had to check the first couple of page of my WIP and I'm happy to report "that" I only used "that" once.

Angie - that would be a great post title "Which Hunt"

Teri Anne Stanley said...

Throw away the broken lawn mower and get a new one. Problem solved.

Nas said...

Thanks for posting. I'll also try to cure my addiction to that/which!

Melissa said...

Thanks for posting this. I'm starting edits next week and will have to keep my out for that/which!

Old Kitty said...

I saw this tagline for the film "Blue Valentine": " A love story for anyone that's ever been in love."

I'm sure the use of "that's" not correct. Wouldn't it be more apt if it said "for anyone who has ever been in love"?

I shall go away now and get a life! LOL!

Thanks for the tips here - very handy! Thank you

Carol Riggs said...

Great reminder! Yikes, I had to go count the # of thats in my first 2 pages, LOL (only two!). Yes, SOMEtimes which can be subbed for that, and sometimes, as Old Kitty points out, if it's a person, it definitely should be WHO!

Anonymous said...

Oh, *that's* what I'm doing well?

Actually, I have an entire list of words, including that, was, and words that end in ly and ing. When I've completed a manuscript I do a search for each word, and make changes as needed. It's time consuming, but a good way to polish.

J.L. Campbell said...

I keep 'that' in when a sentence sounds clumsy without it, but I do try not to get carried away.

alexia said...

I have been on the "that" hunts! I also do word searches for other words I know I overuse.